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Reza Najie makes film History as Best Actor at Berlinale '08

Darius KADIVAR Reports from Europe


Sally Hawkins Best Actress for Happy-Go-Lucky, Reza Najie Best Actor for Majid Majidi's The Song of Sparrows as Special Children's Jury selects Hana Makhmalbaf for Best Feature Film for Buda Az Sharm Foru Rikht ©



"I am glad to see that the 'Song of Sparrows' has attracted attention of the people, and I think this prize was my fair share." - Reza Najie Acceptance Speech



Four movies by prominent Iranian filmmakers were screened and competed for the Top Golden Bear Prize and several other categories including for Best Actor in at the 58th edition of the Berlin Film Festival in Germany. Majid Majidi's The Song of Sparrows, Manijeh Hekmat's 3 Women, Hana Makhmalbaf's Buddha collapsed out of Shame and Tanaz Eshaghian's Be Like Other. But it was director Majid Majidi's leading actor Reza Najie that truly made film history by winning the Silver Bear for Best Actor,  a First for an Iranian actor to date thus joining the long list of prestigious actors in film history to have been awarded with this Award since its inception in 1956 ( The Golden Bear however was founded in 1951). He is the 2nd Iranian to be awarded at the Berlin Film Festival, the first being director Bahman Ghobadi with his movie Turtles Can Fly, in 2004, winning the Glass Bear and Peace Film Award. The Silver bear for Best actress was confered to British actress Sally Hawkins for Mike Leigh's drama Happy Go Lucky. The Festival's Top Prize The Golden Bear for best film went to Brazilian Jose Padilha's controversial film The Elite Squad. Hana Makhmalbaf was the other lucky Iranian compatriot to win the Special Children Jury selection Prize for her already critically acclaimed drama Buddha collapsed out of Shame focusing on the trauma's of childhood set in war torn Afghanistan.

The Berlin International Film Festival, also called the Berlinale, is one of the world's leading film festivals held in Berlin, Germany. Founded in 1951, the festival has been celebrated annually in February since 1978. With 230,000 tickets sold and over 430,000 admissions it is considered the largest publicly-attended film festival worldwide. Up to 400 films are shown in several sections, representing a comprehensive array of the cinematic world. Around twenty films competing for the awards called the Golden and Silver Bears. Since 2001 the director of the festival has been Dieter Kosslick.

Director Costa-Gavras ( Z, State of Siege, Missing) presided this year's Jury '08:  Shu Qi, Uli Hanisch, Alexander Rodnyansky, Diane Kruger, Walter Murch ©


The European Film Market (EFM), a film trade fair held simultaneously to the Berlinale, is a major industry meeting for the international film circuit once a year. The trade fair serves distributors, film buyers, producers, financiers and co-production agents. The Berlinale Talent Campus, a week long series of lectures and workshops, gathers young filmmakers from around the globe. It partners with the festival itself and is considered to be a forum for upcoming artists.


The festival, the EFM and other satellite events are attended by more than 20,000 professionals from over 120 countries. Around 4200 journalists are responsible for the media exposure in more than 100 countries. At high-profile feature film premieres, movie stars and celebrities are present at the red carpet. The Berlinale has established a cosmopolitan character integrating art, glamour, commerce, politics and a global media attention.


A Star is Born: Reza Najie in The Song of Sparrows


In "The Song of Sparrows," the Oscar-nominated Iranian director Majid Majidi tells the story of Karim, who lives contentedly with his wife and children on the outskirts of the capital and works on an ostrich farm.


After events result in him being fired, Karim is forced to search for work in the city where his efforts to eke out a living lead to further problems for both himself and his family.

The film, which received its world premiere in Berlin where it was one of 21 entries competing for the Golden Bear top prize, is a gentle cautionary tale that contrasts pastoral innocence with urban guile.

"For me ,the message is that we shouldn't keep asking for more and more, or make too many demands which will only lead us to ruin," Majidi said after a press screening.

Muslim beliefs and traditions are interwoven into the film's fabric, but always as a cultural reference point rather than a religious ideology.

"My religious convictions are rooted in family," Majidi said.


Hana Makhmalkbaf's "Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame" has received Very good Reviews in the European Press. The festival also showcased young Iranian co-directors Ayat Najaf (See Photo)i and David Assmann's documentary Football Under Cover ©



I grew up in a religious family and these values have accompanied me all my life. For me the question is not what we believe, but where our religious values take us and what they lead us to do."

As with "The Children of Heaven," for which Majidi received an Oscar nomination in 1999, "The Song of Sparrows" also focuses on the innocence and ingenuity of young children when faced with hardship.


First leading role actor of Iranian full length feature movie 'Avaaz-e Gonjeshk Haa' (Song of the Sparrows), Reza Naji, won Silver Bear Award of 58th Berlin Film Festival Saturday evening.


Naji in an interview on the sidelines of the festival's award giving ceremony while expressing delight over winning the prestigious prize, said, "I am glad to see that the 'Song of Sparrows' has attracted attention of the people, and I think this prize was my fair share."


Award Ceremony Highlights: Golden Bear for best film Brazilian goes to Jose Padilha's The Elite Squad, Errol Morris Best documentary Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary about Iraq. Two Bears for Paul Thomas Anderson's There will be blood. Fernando Eimbcke prize for most innovative film, for Lake Tahoe. In Love We Trust actors with Best screen writer Wang Xiaoshuai ©



Focusing on his role in the movie, the Iranian actor said, "I got along with my role in this movie pretty well, because I had thoroughly studied the filmscript in advance and I was very familiar with the geography and anthropology of Tehran, so I faced no problem while acting out my role."


Offering an abstract of the filmscript, Naji said, "The film is about the children, their happiness and their sadness. A group of children lose their gold fish, and then, in order to soothe them I sing a song for them on worthlessness of material belongings, which I think is the part that attracted the maximum attention of the audience."



A STAR IS BORN : Reza Najie Wins Berlin Silver Bear for Best Actor. He joins the prestigious list of other awardees of Berlin Biennale's long history ©




Other Awardees:


A total of 21 pictures were screened in competition in the German capital for the 58th festival.

The Elite Squad, a violent tale of corrupt drug-squad officers in Brazil, has won the Golden Bear, the top prize at the annual Berlin Film Festival. It had created unprecedented interest upon its release in Brazil, because of its portrayal of a police force willing to torture and kill unarmed suspects. Producer Marcos Prado said the award "gives us the strength to go forward".


The UK's Sally Hawkins was best actress for Happy-Go-Lucky. Born in London, 31-year-old Hawkins has also appeared in Mike Leigh's abortion drama Vera Drake and has had an extensive television career. The Rada-trained performer's TV appearances include several Little Britain episodes and the controversial lesbian drama Tipping the Velvet.


The Awardees and Jury Line Up for Photo call ©


Hawkins said she was "on the edge of tears" in her acceptance speech.


US filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson took the prize for best director for There Will Be Blood. This epic story of an oil prospector is already nominated in eight categories at the Oscars, which are being held on 24 February.


Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai received the prize for best for In Love We Trust, while Lake Tahoe, directed by Fernando Eimbcke of Mexico, was named most innovative film.


See Complete List of Awardees

Crystal Bear to Hana Makhmalbaf's Budda


Hana Makhmalbaf's Buda Az Sharm Foru Rikht (Buddha collapsed out of Shame) has won The Crystal Bear-at Berlin International Film Festival. The ten day long festival is closing today.


According to the official release of the festival "This film is exciting and provocative and at the same time it is very shocking. It is about a little girl who is struggling to be allowed to go to school. We were moved by the poignant way the film depicts how a country dominated by violence affects the everyday life of children. The film showed us the senselessness of just sending soldiers to a troubled region. More necessary are people who can convince children that violence is not the solution."


The Crystal Bear for the Best Short Film went to Nana by Warwick Thornton (Australia)


"A little girl is talking about her special relationship with her dear old nana. She is always cooking for her granddaughter and looking after the old people in the village. But there's another side to her as well. The film is funny and full of humour."


The Special Mention for a Feature Film goes to Titanics ti liv by Grethe Bøe (Norway)


"Great actors combined with an excitement and mystery were the ingredients which convinced us in this film. The story was also accompanied by wonderful music."


The Special Mention for a Short Film goes to New Boy by Steph Green (Ireland)


"The plot is easy to follow even though there is not much dialogue. The portrayal of the characters' feelings touched us and swept us along and the reminder of Joseph's earlier homeland gave us a realistic insight into his former life as well as his feelings. In the end we learned that having prejudices just isn't worth it."


Note: The Crystal Bears, the main prizes in the Generation section of the festival are awarded by a Children's Jury and a Youth Jury.


A total of 21 pictures were screened in competition in the German capital for the 58th festival.









Authors Notes:


Official Website of 58th Annual Berlin Film Festival


Recommended Readings:


Majidi's Sparrow Eye's Berlin Bear by Darius KADIVAR


Persepolis Still in the Race! by Darius KADIVAR


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is international Correspondent for OCPC Magazine and contributes to the IC publications of The Middle East. and Persian Heritage.

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